Sunday, January 22, 2017


Black Lives Matter, Even When You're Only 22% Black
(alternate title for this post)

I am Latina (or Latinx, or Puerto Rican, or Hispanic, or a mixture of three races - Caucasian, African, Native - or Afrolatina because that's what I most closely identify as, or American). This sometimes places me in an awkward position when discussing matters of race in the US, especially after the election of the current 45th President. After all, 33% of Latinos voted for the man. And while I often find myself disagreeing with the politics of some of my Latinx family, I must insist that we are such a diverse entity that there's no way our politics could align. We are approximately 22 countries (including the US) with varying languages, cultures, and politics. When race comes up as a topic of discussion, it is primarily a black and white conversation, and Latinx people don't neatly fit into those categories.

I decided to have my DNA analyzed recently, and found out some interesting information; this self-proclaimed Afrolatina is 59% European - not too surprising due to the mixing created by imperialism (i.e., the rape of native and African women by European colonizers), guaranteeing that practically everyone born in the western hemisphere has some European ancestry. However, I don't identify with Europe because I don't have the privilege of that ancestry. 

My AncestryDNA results.
I am brown, and that 18% Native American ancestry is clear in my phenotype. Having lived in Brooklyn most of my life in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, I identify with the black experience in the US, and I have long understood that there's African blood in my veins. When the black community experiences instances of oppression, I identify with that oppression - I don't just empathize. I have seen black and brown people die at the hands of police brutality and systemic oppression in New York City for as long as I can remember. I have been called the N word in my lifetime. So when discussions of race come up, I tend to speak from the perspective of the black experience, even though I'm not technically what most people would consider black. Back in the early 90's - my first encounter with activism - this did not matter; as a matter of fact, solidarity was welcomed. Now, I tend to step back more because I understand that, due to my phenotype, there are certain privileges I own that are based on the 78% of me that is not (technically) black. I hear the pain in my black brothers' and sisters' voices when they speak of the micro- and macroagressions they experience daily. Sometimes I hear my black brothers and sisters say that I don't understand their experience as a non-black person of color. I have to respect those feelings, and as a counselor I have learned that it is never my job to tell a person what they should or shouldn't feel.

I went to the Women's March on Washington yesterday. The march was, from the onset, controversial because the original organizers were primarily white women. Before we could blink, however, experienced activists Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour were added as co-chairs, and the march's principles became intersectional. In a synthesis of several articles I'd read and conversations I'd had prior to the march, I learned that some black women stated they wouldn't be attending because it wasn't until the election that white women seemed interested in speaking out about oppression. Others referred to the suffragette movement, when the women's right to vote prioritized white women's right to vote, literally pushing black women to the back of the movement. Some black women needed to know that the white women attending were going to "check their privilege." Some rightfully questioned the 53% of white women who voted for the current administration (I was at the march thinking the math wasn't adding up, to be honest). Some needed time for self-care. Again, as a counselor, I can't tell anyone how to feel and I respect those feelings. What I will say, though, is that I was encouraged to see more than a few white women (and men) at the march wearing Black Lives Matter paraphernalia and wholeheartedly chanting "Black Lives Matter." I can't really judge whether any of this support was genuine - I don't know any of those people I saw - but witnessing that made me realize that we're missing a narrative in the media - the support for Black Lives Matter by non-black people. 

Every time we see Black Lives Matter marches on television, we don't often hear the voices of those white supporters of the movement. Just as mainstream media portrays people of color negatively, feeding stereotypes to white people who live in predominantly white worlds, it also negatively impacts black people's perceptions of support from non-black people, further creating a sense of isolation and alienation. Honestly, I was surprised to see how many white people at the march were supportive of Black Lives Matter and against the oppression and marginalization of people of color in general. Pleasantly surprised, but still surprised. 

If we all took DNA tests to discover our ancestry, the ethnicity percentages that shape our identities might not be what we'd expect. After acknowledging my DNA results and celebrating the diversity of my existence, I think it's time for me to focus on the one percentage that impacts the majority of our lives - the 1% that is hoarding all of the privilege, power, and wealth, and the system that is maintaining that imbalance. 

Taken at the Women's March on Washington, 1.21.17

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